This Sunday, members of the First Presbyterian Church will see a new face behind the pulpit when minister, Claude Wilson-Stayton, begins his tenure.
Wilson-Stayton comes to Lincolnton from the suburbs of Tampa, Fla. He says he is excited about the change of scenery.
â€œIâ€™m looking forward to being in a smaller community,â€ he said. â€œI heard this was the quiet side of Charlotte.â€
A native of Hammond, La., a town about 50 miles north of New Orleans, his father was also a Presbyterian minister. He died when Wilson-
Stayton was only 5-years-old. The family remained in Hammond, and Wilson-Stayton was very active in church throughout his formative years.
Although entering the ministry was not a lifelong dream, Wilson-Stayton says no one was shocked when he decided to follow in his fatherâ€™s footsteps.
â€œUnlike some who are called into the ministry and itâ€™s a surprise to their family, mine wasnâ€™t surprised at all,â€ he said.
While attending Southwest at Memphis, a Presbyterian-affiliated school now known as Rhodes College, Wilson-Stayton spent summers working at a church camp. After working there the summer after his sophomore year, he was worried that running out of a job would mean running out of money. Wilson-Stayton went to work at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. in the churchâ€™s inner city youth ministry. It was a job that would last a bit longer than the summer.
After graduating from college, Wilson-Stayton was asked to stay on at Emmanuel Presbyterian as assistant to the minister. He continued working with youth and also began helping the minister with church services. By then, he had an idea where his life was heading.
â€œI had a sense of being guided in the direction of the ministry,â€ he said.
People told Wilson-Stayton they could picture him being a pastor. A minister with whom he has been close during high school was also influential in his decision to answer the call.
As a high school student during the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement, Wilson-Stayton saw his Christian ideals colliding with those of society.
â€œI realized that to follow Jesus Christ, I had to take a position different than the dominant culture around me,â€ he said.
Though it would not be until three years after college that he decided to go to seminary, the young manâ€™s experience during high school set the stage for a life spent following Christâ€™s teachings and leading others down the same path.
Wilson-Stayton attended Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., one of the top seminaries in the country. But he did not go there alone.
By then, he was married to wife Margaret. They entered seminary together.
â€œWe were one of two couples who entered seminary together,â€ said Wilson-Stayton. â€œThat was the first time that had happened at Union Theological Seminary.â€
The young couple intended to serve separate churches after graduating from seminary. In 1980, they moved to San Antonio, Texas and pastored different churches. The arrangement worked for awhile, but the birth of the coupleâ€™s first child, daughter Amy, changed everything.
â€œWe started thinking, do we want our family pulled between two churches,â€ Wilson-Stayton said.
The family moved to Wilson-Staytonâ€™s home state of Louisiana in 1984 and became co-associate pastors at a church in Shreveport. With Amy and younger daughter Jean, they stayed there for 13Ð… years.
In 1997, the couple to Seffner, Fla., a small community outside of Tampa. They were co-pastors there for 10 years.
â€œWe had an absolutely wonderful time there,â€ said Wilson-Stayton.
But with both daughters grown and out of the house, the married ministers decided it was time for a change. They decided to again look for churches separately, knowing one would get the call first. It was him.
Dr. Jim Mays, a former minister at First Presbyterian in Lincolnton and former professor retired from Union Theological Seminary, knew of the vacancy and told Wilson-Stayton. The church was as ready for a new pastor as the pastor was for a new church.
â€œIt worked out pretty quickly,â€ he said.
Margaret is still in Florida, making preparations to sell the coupleâ€™s house and looking for a church in this area. In Seffner, the couple faced some challenges, namely the townâ€™s change from a small community near Tampa to a growing suburb of Tampa.
Both ministers realized the church needed to adapt in order to reach out to the evolving community. The congregation doubled in size during their time there.
â€œWe both see ourselves as redevelopment pastors,â€ said Wilson-Stayton. â€œOur decision to seek separate calls was because there are lots of Presbyterian churches that need renewal.â€
That idea turned out to be a perfect fit for First Presbyterian of Lincolnton. With a congregation whose median age is 58, the church is somewhat out of line with the community, whose median age is 38.
â€œThe church doesnâ€™t reflect the community around it,â€ Wilson-Stayton said. â€œWe need to reach out to the community.â€
While Wilson-Stayton looks forward to making a difference at First Presbyterian, he also knows that, in the end, it is really up to God to lead the church in whatever direction He chooses.
â€œItâ€™s not about the minister,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s about Jesus Christ and worshipping God. If the church is going to grow, itâ€™s because of what the Holy Ghost does, not what the minister does.â€
Wilson-Stayton says he is trying to learn more about his new community. Reaching out to various segments of the community that the church might help is a priority.
â€œWe have to be thinking all the time of who we can reach,â€ Wilson-Stayton said. â€œIf the church is not reaching out, itâ€™s not doing its job.â€
As the end of his first week in Lincolnton draws to a close, Wilson-Stayton continues to get settled in and will soon move into a rental house in town. Sunday will be his first day behind the pulpit.
He is anxious to get to know the community and the church family of which he is now a part.
â€œItâ€™s good to be able to be involved with people at a meaningful level,â€ said Wilson-Stayton. â€œItâ€™s a very privileged place to be.â€
by Allyson Levine